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One ‘yes or no’ lifts GA’s ethics ranking to 24th

 

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By JIM WALLS

Nov. 10, 2015 — Much of Georgia’s remarkable upgrade in ethics rankings – from 50th in the nation in 2012 to 24th today – boils down to a single question: Does the state have an ethics enforcement agency?

I answered no in 2012, when I compiled Georgia’s scorecard for the nationwide State Integrity Investigation. As a result, Georgia got zero points for ethics enforcement.

Reporter Susanna Capelouto answered yes this year, helping Georgia score five points higher and place in the middle of the pack in state-by-state rankings released Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity, which sponsored both year’s surveys. The new score nudged the center’s letter grade for Georgia upward from an F to a D-minus.

Crunching the numbers, I found that Georgia would have placed 46th in this year’s State Integrity Investigation without those additional points.

The difference is in how the project interpreted ethics enforcement.

In 2012, I reasoned that the Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the Ethics Commission) had no jurisdiction over matters of unethical conduct by legislators or other state employees. That was one reason that the Legislature changed the agency’s name in 2010.

A fact-checker for the project agreed with me after asking me about it.

“From our perspective what makes an Ethics Commission useful is not simply enforcement of campaign finance rules but also, importantly, jurisdiction over potential conflicts of interest issues,” he told me at the time.

The fact-checker also wanted to make sure Georgia had no ethics agency “independent of the governor.” Three of the commission’s five members are appointed by the governor.

This time, the project defined an enforcement agency more liberally. “We counted any entity, whether it’s a legislative committee, an independent commission, an office [or] an agency that is tasked with overseeing a sort of broadly defined set of ethics laws,” including campaign finance and asset disclosure, said project manager Nicholas Kusnetz.

Georgia also scored substantially higher this year in two other categories — management of pension funds and civil service — than in 2012. That bumped up Georgia’s raw score but affected its ranking only slightly since many other states improved as well.

Click here to read the details of Georgia’s 2015 scoring and Capelouto’s article on her findings.

 

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